Not only are place-names an important part of any city's distinctive character, they are also often our oldest record of a place, providing unique evidence for landscape and society stretching back over the last 1,500 years or more.
The first thing place-names tell us about a place is what languages have been spoken there over the centuries. Glasgow and its neighbourhoods, like most other places in Scotland, have a complicated language history. The earliest language to be spoken in and around Glasgow that has left us important place-names is Cumbric, a British language closely related to modern Welsh. Cumbric gives us names such as Glasgow itself (green hollow), Partick (little grove), Govan (small hill, perhaps referring to the now vanished Doomster Hill), Balornock (Buthlornoc in 1186, the residence of, or more probably the church dedicated to, a man with the Cumbric name Louernoc), and Possil (place of rest).
Barlanark is also Cumbric; the second element is related to the Welsh llanerc (clearing in a wood), found also in the place-name Lanark. An early reference to a place called Pathelanerhc (early 12th century), which is probably Barlanark, shows that the first element is from a Cumbric word related to the Welsh baedd ("boar" - with the double dd pronounced as in the in English), found also in Bathgate "boar wood". It would therefore mean something like "boar-clearing" or "clearing frequented by boars". Barmulloch is another Cumbric place-name which has ended up with Bar- as its first element. This is earlier Badermonoc, one of the lands granted to the church of Glasgow by Malcolm IV (1153-1165), and meaning "house or dwelling-place of the monks". Other Cumbric names are Cathcart, "wood on the River Cart"; Kelvin, "reed river", containing a Cumbric word related to the Welsh celefyn (reed, stalk, stem), and Molendinar, a"mill-burn".
The Cumbric language was dying out by the 11th century, which means that Cumbric place-names take us directly back to the first millennium of our era. From the names mentioned above we can recreate a Glasgow landscape of open country, interspersed with woodland through at least some of which roamed wild boar, with enough arable farming to warrant water-driven milling. It appears to have been a landscape inhabited by speakers of Cumbric, a language akin to Welsh, some of whom were not only Christian but also living in monastic communities. A remarkable survival of this landscape is the green hollow below Glasgow Cathedral, the feature which gave Glasgow its name.
In the 11th century at the latest Cumbric was being replaced by Gaelic, the language of the expanding kingdom of Alba or Scotland. The Kingdom's heartlands were in the eastern lowlands north of the Forth, but since the 10th century it had been moving its frontier southwards into Lothian and from the early 11th century into Strathclyde.
The bulk of the place-names of the neighbourhoods of Glasgow were either coined by Gaelic-speakers or adapted to Gaelic from Cumbric. An early Gaelic name is Polmadie, containing Gaelic poll "pool", but which in areas where Gaelic replaced Cumbric usually means "burn" or "stream". From a late 12th century form, Polmacde, it is clear that the middle element is Gaelic mac (of (the) sons). The third element could be either the personal name Daigh, or the Gaelic Dè (of God), referring to an early religious establishment beside the burn. A remarkable feature of this place-name is how the original stress-pattern has survived, even centuries after its meaning ceased to be understood by those using it locally. It is still pronounced "pawmaDEE" (with a half stress on "paw" and full stress on "dee"), exactly as it would have been stressed in Gaelic.
Another Gaelic word dail) means a haugh or low-lying land by a river. Haughs were important hay-producing units in the middle ages. It is quite common to find them dedicated to saints, usually because some or all of the produce from this land was given to a church dedicated to the named saint. A name on the Clyde containing dail is Dalbeth, with the qualifying element beith ("birch"), while another is Dalmarnock, a Gaelic place-name meaning "the haugh of St Ernéne or Ernoc". This is the same name, and probably the same saint, as is found in Kilmarnock, and Baldernock (earlier Buthernok), a parish in the Lennox only a few kilometres to the north, both of which mean "church of (St) Ernoc". The most famous of the many saints called Ernéne or Ernóc was Ernéne mac Cresene, a younger associate of Columba.
Many other place-names in the neighbourhoods of Glasgow, left to us by medieval Gaelic speakers, reflect the importance of agriculture as the main industry at this time. There are for example those formed from the word gart ("enclosure, field; farm"), such as Garscadden, apparently containing sgadan ("herring"), perhaps indicating an important inland fish-market; Garscube, containing sguab (sheaf of corn; also broom, besom); Gartcraig, containing creag ("rock, crag"); Garthamlock, perhaps containing a personal name; and Gartnavel, containing ubhal ("apple"). There are also those names containing the Gaelic blàr (field, level land for rough grazing), such as Barlinnie, earlier Blairlenny, with second element probably làanach (swampy) and Blocharn, earlier Blairquharne, with second element càrn (cairn, burial mound). Balshagray contains the Gaelic baile (farm, estate), probably qualified by seagalach (rye-producing). And if Auchenshuggle is a genuinely old name, then it too contains seagal (rye), the first element being Gaelic achadh (field or secondary farm i.e. one carved out of an earlier estate). Baile (farm), so common in other parts of Scotland where Gaelic has been spoken, is remarkably rare in the Glasgow area. One of the few other examples of it is in Bonnaughton in Bearsden, baile Nechtain, "Nechtan's farm", (Bannachtane, Bolnachtun).
We have already seen evidence for a water-mill near Glasgow Cathedral in Cumbric-speaking times, in the burn-name Molendinar. Another name providing evidence for a different type of milling, this time from the Gaelic-speaking period, is Milngavie, which probably derives from muileann na gaoithe (wind-mill). Its modern pronunciation, "millGUY", with the stress on "guy", is seen already in the 17th century form of the name Milgay.
Other names reflect the importance of religion in medieval life and landscape. Barmulloch, Polmadie and Balornock, all with certain or probable religious associations, have already been mentioned. There is also Killermont, Gaelic ceann tearmainn (sanctuary-end). It lay at the very eastern edge of the medieval parish of Kilpatrick, and confirms that a wide sanctuary area surrounded that important pilgrimage church (Gaelic for "Patrick's church"), now Old Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire.
A third language has played a major role in the named landscape of Glasgow and its neighbourhoods: that is Scots. The first Scots-speaking community of any note in the area would have been the burgesses or citizens of the burgh of Glasgow, established as a privileged trading centre by Bishop Jocelin of Glasgow in 1176. That Scots was the language of the Glasgow burgh from the very outset is reflected in the place-names from within the burgh, such as Briggate (bridge street'), Rottenraw, now Rottenrow (rat-infested row), and (the) Gallowgate (gallows street).
Shettleston, while appearing to be a straightforward Scots name, is in fact more complex, showing that it was coined at a time when Scots and Gaelic were still being spoken side-by-side, and many people in the Glasgow area would have been bilingual. Its earliest forms are in Latin, the language of administration and official documents. In 1170 it is villa filie Sadin (the farm or toun of the daughter of Seatna), Seatna being a Gaelic male personal name; while in 1173 it appears as "villa inineschadin", meaning the same thing, but using the Gaelic ingne (daughter's). At almost the same time this place is being recorded in Scots as Schedinestun (Seadna's toun or farm), a poor translation of the Latin (and presumably of the underlying Gaelic form of the name, which would have been something like Baile Ingne Seadna), that suppresses evidence for one of the rare Scottish place-names referring to a woman. In the later middle ages it was an easy step from Shedinistoun to Shettleston.
Another place-name which may have arisen at a time of bilingualism is Ruchill, Scots "rough hill", but which may share its origins with Garrioch, a Gaelic name meaning "rough place" (garbhach).
Bishopbriggs is entirely Scots, but like so many place-names, is not quite what it seems. From older forms it is clear that this was originally Bishoprigs, referring to rigs or arable strips of land belonging to the bishop (of Glasgow).
Over the centuries Glasgow, in its spectacular and relentless expansion, has taken in literally hundreds of small settlements, hamlets and farms, each one with its own name, many of which are at least a thousand years old. By understanding the languages and elements which have gone to create these names, it is clear that we can throw light on many aspects of our past which would otherwise remain hidden. Much work remains to be done on the place-names of Glasgow, but I hope this essay has shown that it is work well worth undertaking in a serious and systematic way.
You have 0 images in your photo album.